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Trader Joe’s Should Join the Campaign for Fair Food

by the Rev. Dr. Sara Halverson, Fairview Community Church, Costa Mesa, CA

Photo by Claudia Saenz

People often forget why the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis, Tennessee, the site of his assassination.  He was standing in solidarity with sanitation workers as they sought justice in their workplace!  I could think of no better way to honor his legacy than by celebrating his birthday continuing the struggle against injustice.  I spent that weekend in Immokalee, Florida with tomato farm workers who, like the sanitation workers of King’s day (who held signs declaring “I am a Man”) reminded us with “Soy Humano” – “I am human,” that they deserve to be treated so.  
 
     I first became aware of the Coalition of Immokalee workers (CIW) nearly a decade ago when they called an unprecedented boycott against Taco Bell to demand a penny more a pound for their tomatoes. They knew that the growers were being squeezed and could not (and would not) increase their wages.  So they decided to go straight to the buyer.   Their efforts have won over Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Whole Foods.  Equally important as the money, if not more so, is the signing of the Fair Food Contract, an agreement that offers protection in the fields.  People still die in the fields from lack of water.  They are beaten by foremen, are sexually abused and have their wages stolen.  Until the Coalition came together there was no defense against these horrendous acts.
 
     Visiting Immokalee allowed me to witness the living conditions, to see the fields, to speak with the farm workers in their own setting and, most important, to witness the life-saving changes the CIW has fought for and won!   Their struggle, however, is not over.
 
     You might wonder how this affects us in southern California and how we can effect change in Immokalee, Florida.  We have a right to know that the food we buy has not been unjustly acquired! 

     Until corporations sign the Fair Food Contract there is no guarantee that the workers will be treated fairly.  Taco Bell was the first to agree to sign, others have followed, but every corporation that buys tomatoes should be able to ensure consumers that they have not bought “slave tomatoes!”  
 
     Interestingly, Trader Joe’s, which presents itself as thoughtful and caring – the neighborhood store, has not signed the Fair Food Contract.  It is time they demonstrate their love of neighbor and sign!

     Let Martin Luther King not just be the man who gave us a day off but the man who inspires us to change our world today!   Tell Trader Joe’s to sign the contract and help to end poverty and slavery in the fields!

Adapted from “Community Commentary:  Trader Joe’s should join the Campaign for Fair Food” in the January 21, 2012 edition of The Daily Pilot.  Used with permission.

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